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The Florida Statutes

The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C)

Title XLVIII
EARLY LEARNING-20 EDUCATION CODE
Chapter 1002
STUDENT AND PARENTAL RIGHTS AND EDUCATIONAL CHOICES
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F.S. 1002.394
1002.394 The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
(1) PURPOSE.The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program is established to provide children of families in this state which have limited financial resources with educational options to achieve success in their education.
(2) DEFINITIONS.As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Approved provider” means a provider approved by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, a health care practitioner as defined in s. 456.001, or a provider approved by the department pursuant to s. 1002.66.
(b) “Choice navigator” has the same meaning as in s. 1002.395(2).
(c) “Curriculum” means a complete course of study for a particular content area or grade level, including any required supplemental materials and associated online instruction.
(d) “Department” means the Department of Education.
(e) “Disability” means, for a 3- or 4-year-old child or for a student in kindergarten to grade 12, autism spectrum disorder, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association; cerebral palsy, as defined in s. 393.063; Down syndrome, as defined in s. 393.063; an intellectual disability, as defined in s. 393.063; a speech impairment; a language impairment; an orthopedic impairment; any other health impairment; an emotional or a behavioral disability; a specific learning disability, including, but not limited to, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or developmental aphasia; Phelan-McDermid syndrome, as defined in s. 393.063; Prader-Willi syndrome, as defined in s. 393.063; spina bifida, as defined in s. 393.063; being a high-risk child, as defined in s. 393.063(22)(a); muscular dystrophy; Williams syndrome; rare diseases which affect patient populations of fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, as defined by the National Organization for Rare Disorders; anaphylaxis; a hearing impairment, including deafness; a visual impairment, including blindness; traumatic brain injury; hospital or homebound; or identification as dual sensory impaired, as defined by rules of the State Board of Education and evidenced by reports from local school districts. The term “hospital or homebound” includes a student who has a medically diagnosed physical or psychiatric condition or illness, as defined by the state board in rule, and who is confined to the home or hospital for more than 6 months.
(f) “Eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization” or “organization” has the same meaning as in s. 1002.395(2).
(g) “Eligible postsecondary educational institution” means a Florida College System institution; a state university; a school district technical center; a school district adult general education center; an independent college or university that is eligible to participate in the William L. Boyd, IV, Effective Access to Student Education Grant Program under s. 1009.89; or an accredited independent postsecondary educational institution, as defined in s. 1005.02, which is licensed to operate in this state under part III of chapter 1005 or is approved to participate in a reciprocity agreement as defined in s. 1000.35(2).
(h) “Eligible private school” has the same meaning as in s. 1002.395(2).
(i) “IEP” means an individual education plan, regardless of whether the plan has been reviewed or revised within the last 12 months.
(j) “Inactive” means that no eligible expenditures have been made from an account funded pursuant to paragraph (12)(b).
(k) “Job coach” means an individual employed to help people with disabilities learn, accommodate to, and perform their work duties.
(l) “Law enforcement officer” has the same meaning as provided in s. 943.10(1).
(m) “Parent” means a resident of this state who is a parent, as defined in s. 1000.21.
(n) “Program” means the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
(3) SCHOLARSHIP ELIGIBILITY.
(a)1. A parent of a student may request and receive from the state a scholarship for the purposes specified in paragraph (4)(a) if the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.
2. Priority must be given in the following order:
a. A student whose household income level does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level or who is in foster care or out-of-home care.
b. A student whose household income level exceeds 185 percent of the federal poverty level, but does not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
(b) A parent of a student with a disability may request and receive from the state a scholarship for the purposes specified in paragraph (4)(b) if the student:
1. Is a resident of this state;
2. Is 3 or 4 years of age on or before September 1 of the year in which the student applies for program participation or is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state;
3. Has a disability as defined in subsection (2); and
4. Is the subject of an IEP written in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education or with the applicable rules of another state or has received a diagnosis of a disability from a physician who is licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459, a psychologist who is licensed under chapter 490, or a physician who holds an active license issued by another state or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
(c) An approved student who does not receive a scholarship must be placed on the wait list in the order in which the student is approved. An eligible student who does not receive a scholarship within the fiscal year must be retained on the wait list for the subsequent year.
(4) AUTHORIZED USES OF PROGRAM FUNDS.
(a) Program funds awarded to a student determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(a) may be used for:
1. Tuition and fees at an eligible private school.
2. Transportation to a Florida public school in which a student is enrolled and that is different from the school to which the student was assigned or to a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32.
3. Instructional materials, including digital materials and Internet resources.
4. Curriculum as defined in subsection (2).
5. Tuition and fees associated with full-time or part-time enrollment in an eligible postsecondary educational institution or a program offered by the postsecondary educational institution, unless the program is subject to s. 1009.25 or reimbursed pursuant to s. 1009.30; an approved preapprenticeship program as defined in s. 446.021(5) which is not subject to s. 1009.25 and complies with all applicable requirements of the department pursuant to chapter 1005; a private tutoring program authorized under s. 1002.43; a virtual program offered by a department-approved private online provider that meets the provider qualifications specified in s. 1002.45(2)(a); the Florida Virtual School as a private paying student; or an approved online course offered pursuant to s. 1003.499 or s. 1004.0961.
6. Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests, Advanced Placement Examinations, industry certification examinations, assessments related to postsecondary education, or other assessments.
7. Contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes. A student who receives contracted services under this subparagraph is not considered enrolled in a public school for eligibility purposes as specified in subsection (6) but rather attending a public school on a part-time basis as authorized under s. 1002.44.
8. Tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services or fees for services provided by a choice navigator. Such services must be provided by a person who holds a valid Florida educator’s certificate pursuant to s. 1012.56, a person who holds an adjunct teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.57, a person who has a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree in the subject area in which instruction is given, a person who has demonstrated a mastery of subject area knowledge pursuant to s. 1012.56(5), or a person certified by a nationally or internationally recognized research-based training program as approved by the department. As used in this subparagraph, the term “part-time tutoring services” does not qualify as regular school attendance as defined in 1s. 1003.01(16)(e).
(b) Program funds awarded to a student with a disability determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) may be used for the following purposes:
1. Instructional materials, including digital devices, digital periphery devices, and assistive technology devices that allow a student to access instruction or instructional content and training on the use of and maintenance agreements for these devices.
2. Curriculum as defined in subsection (2).
3. Specialized services by approved providers or by a hospital in this state which are selected by the parent. These specialized services may include, but are not limited to:
a. Applied behavior analysis services as provided in ss. 627.6686 and 641.31098.
b. Services provided by speech-language pathologists as defined in s. 468.1125(8).
c. Occupational therapy as defined in s. 468.203.
d. Services provided by physical therapists as defined in s. 486.021(8).
e. Services provided by listening and spoken language specialists and an appropriate acoustical environment for a child who has a hearing impairment, including deafness, and who has received an implant or assistive hearing device.
4. Tuition and fees associated with full-time or part-time enrollment in a home education program; an eligible private school; an eligible postsecondary educational institution or a program offered by the postsecondary educational institution, unless the program is subject to s. 1009.25 or reimbursed pursuant to s. 1009.30; an approved preapprenticeship program as defined in s. 446.021(5) which is not subject to s. 1009.25 and complies with all applicable requirements of the department pursuant to chapter 1005; a private tutoring program authorized under s. 1002.43; a virtual program offered by a department-approved private online provider that meets the provider qualifications specified in s. 1002.45(2)(a); the Florida Virtual School as a private paying student; or an approved online course offered pursuant to s. 1003.499 or s. 1004.0961.
5. Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests, Advanced Placement Examinations, industry certification examinations, assessments related to postsecondary education, or other assessments.
6. Contributions to the Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program pursuant to s. 1009.98 or the Florida College Savings Program pursuant to s. 1009.981 for the benefit of the eligible student.
7. Contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes. A student who receives services under a contract under this paragraph is not considered enrolled in a public school for eligibility purposes as specified in subsection (6) but rather attending a public school on a part-time basis as authorized under s. 1002.44.
8. Tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services or fees for services provided by a choice navigator. Such services must be provided by a person who holds a valid Florida educator’s certificate pursuant to s. 1012.56, a person who holds an adjunct teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.57, a person who has a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree in the subject area in which instruction is given, a person who has demonstrated a mastery of subject area knowledge pursuant to s. 1012.56(5), or a person certified by a nationally or internationally recognized research-based training program as approved by the department. As used in this subparagraph, the term “part-time tutoring services” does not qualify as regular school attendance as defined in s. 1003.01(16)(e).
9. Fees for specialized summer education programs.
10. Fees for specialized after-school education programs.
11. Transition services provided by job coaches.
12. Fees for an annual evaluation of educational progress by a state-certified teacher under s. 1002.41(1)(f), if this option is chosen for a home education student.
13. Tuition and fees associated with programs offered by Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program providers approved pursuant to s. 1002.55 and school readiness providers approved pursuant to s. 1002.88.
14. Fees for services provided at a center that is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
15. Fees for services provided by a therapist who is certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists or credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc.
(5) TERM OF SCHOLARSHIP.For purposes of continuity of educational choice:
(a)1. A scholarship awarded to an eligible student pursuant to paragraph (3)(a) shall remain in force until:
a. The organization determines that the student is not eligible for program renewal;
b. The Commissioner of Education suspends or revokes program participation or use of funds;
c. The student’s parent has forfeited participation in the program for failure to comply with subsection (10);
d. The student enrolls in a public school. However, if a student enters a Department of Juvenile Justice detention center for a period of no more than 21 days, the student is not considered to have returned to a public school on a full-time basis for that purpose; or
e. The student graduates from high school or attains 21 years of age, whichever occurs first.
2.a. The student’s scholarship account must be closed and any remaining funds shall revert to the state after:
(I) Denial or revocation of program eligibility by the commissioner for fraud or abuse, including, but not limited to, the student or student’s parent accepting any payment, refund, or rebate, in any manner, from a provider of any services received pursuant to paragraph (4)(a); or
(II) Two consecutive fiscal years in which an account has been inactive.
b. Reimbursements for program expenditures may continue until the account balance is expended or remaining funds have reverted to the state.
(b)1. A scholarship awarded to an eligible student pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) shall remain in force until:
a. The parent does not renew program eligibility;
b. The organization determines that the student is not eligible for program renewal;
c. The Commissioner of Education suspends or revokes program participation or use of funds;
d. The student’s parent has forfeited participation in the program for failure to comply with subsection (10);
e. The student enrolls in a public school; or
f. The student graduates from high school or attains 22 years of age, whichever occurs first.
2. Reimbursements for program expenditures may continue until the account balance is expended or the account is closed.
3. A student’s scholarship account must be closed and any remaining funds, including, but not limited to, contributions made to the Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program or earnings from or contributions made to the Florida College Savings Program using program funds pursuant to subparagraph (4)(b)6., shall revert to the state after:
a. Denial or revocation of program eligibility by the commissioner for fraud or abuse, including, but not limited to, the student or student’s parent accepting any payment, refund, or rebate, in any manner, from a provider of any services received pursuant to subsection (4);
b. Any period of 3 consecutive years after high school completion or graduation during which the student has not been enrolled in an eligible postsecondary educational institution or a program offered by the institution; or
c. Two consecutive fiscal years in which an account has been inactive.
(c) Upon reasonable notice to the organization and the school district, the student’s parent may remove the student from the private school and place the student in a public school in accordance with this section.
(d) Upon reasonable notice to the organization, the student’s parent may move the student from one participating private school to another participating private school.
(6) SCHOLARSHIP PROHIBITIONS.A student is not eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship while he or she is:
(a) Enrolled in a public school, including, but not limited to, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, the College-Preparatory Boarding Academy, a developmental research school authorized under s. 1002.32, or a charter school authorized under this chapter. For purposes of this paragraph, a 3- or 4-year-old child who receives services funded through the Florida Education Finance Program is considered to be a student enrolled in a public school;
(b) Enrolled in a school operating for the purpose of providing educational services to youth in a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program;
(c) Receiving any other educational scholarship pursuant to this chapter;
(d) Not having regular and direct contact with his or her private school teachers pursuant to s. 1002.421(1)(i), unless he or she is eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) and enrolled in the private school’s transition-to-work program pursuant to subsection (16) or a home education program pursuant to s. 1002.41;
(e) Participating in a private tutoring program pursuant to s. 1002.43 unless he or she is determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b); or
(f) Participating in virtual instruction pursuant to s. 1002.455 that receives state funding pursuant to the student’s participation.
(7) SCHOOL DISTRICT OBLIGATIONS.
(a) By January 1 of each year, a school district shall inform all households within the district receiving free or reduced-priced meals under the National School Lunch Act of their eligibility to apply to the department for a Family Empowerment Scholarship. The form of such notice shall be provided by the department, and the school district shall include the provided form in any normal correspondence with eligible households. Such notice is limited to once a year.
(b)1. The parent of a student with a disability who does not have an IEP in accordance with subparagraph (3)(b)4. or who seeks a reevaluation of an existing IEP may request an IEP meeting and evaluation from the school district in order to obtain or revise a matrix of services. The school district shall notify a parent who has made a request for an IEP that the district is required to complete the IEP and matrix of services within 30 days after receiving notice of the parent’s request. The school district shall conduct a meeting and develop an IEP and a matrix of services within 30 days after receipt of the parent’s request in accordance with State Board of Education rules. The district must accept the diagnosis and consider the service plan of the licensed professional providing the diagnosis pursuant to subparagraph (3)(b)4. The school district must complete a matrix that assigns the student to one of the levels of service as they existed before the 2000-2001 school year. For a nonpublic school student without an IEP, the school district is authorized to use evaluation reports and plans of care developed by the licensed professionals under subparagraph (4)(b)3. to complete the matrix of services.
2.a. The school district must provide the student’s parent and the department with the student’s matrix level within 10 calendar days after its completion.
b. The department shall notify the parent and the organization of the amount of the funds awarded within 10 days after receiving the school district’s notification of the student’s matrix level.
c. A school district may change a matrix of services only if the change is a result of an IEP reevaluation or to correct a technical, typographical, or calculation error.
(c)1. Within 10 days after an IEP meeting is held, a school district shall notify the parent of a student of all options available pursuant to this section and offer that student’s parent an opportunity to enroll the student in another public school in the school district.
2. The parent is not required to accept the offer of enrolling the student in another public school in lieu of requesting a scholarship. However, if the parent chooses the public school option, the student may continue attending the public school chosen by the parent until the student graduates from high school.
3. The parent may choose another public school in the school district, and the school district shall provide transportation to the public school selected by the parent.
4. The parent may choose, as an alternative, to enroll the student in and transport the student to a public school in an adjacent school district that has available space and has a program with the services agreed to in the student’s IEP already in place, and that school district shall accept the student and report the student for purposes of the school district’s funding pursuant to the Florida Education Finance Program.
(d) Upon the request of the department, a school district shall coordinate with the department to provide to a participating private school the statewide assessments administered under s. 1008.22 and any related materials for administering the assessments. For a student who participates in the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program whose parent requests that the student take the statewide assessments under s. 1008.22, the district in which the student attends a private school shall provide locations and times to take all statewide assessments. A school district is responsible for implementing test administrations at a participating private school, including the:
1. Provision of training for private school staff on test security and assessment administration procedures;
2. Distribution of testing materials to a private school;
3. Retrieval of testing materials from a private school;
4. Provision of the required format for a private school to submit information to the district for test administration and enrollment purposes; and
5. Provision of any required assistance, monitoring, or investigation at a private school.
(e) Each school district must publish information about the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program on the district’s website homepage. At a minimum, the published information must include a website link to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program published on the Department of Education website as well as a telephone number and e-mail that students and parents may use to contact relevant personnel in the school district to obtain information about the scholarship.
(8) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.
(a) The department shall:
1. Publish and update, as necessary, information on the department website about the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, including, but not limited to, student eligibility criteria, parental responsibilities, and relevant data.
2. Report, as part of the determination of full-time equivalent membership pursuant to s. 1011.62(1)(a), all students who are receiving a scholarship under the program and are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program, and cross-check the list of participating scholarship students with the public school enrollment lists to avoid duplication.
3. Maintain and annually publish a list of nationally norm-referenced tests identified for purposes of satisfying the testing requirement in subparagraph (9)(c)1. The tests must meet industry standards of quality in accordance with state board rule.
4. Notify eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations of the deadlines for submitting the verified list of students determined to be eligible for a scholarship. An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may not submit a student for funding after February 1.
5. Deny or terminate program participation upon a parent’s failure to comply with subsection (10).
6. Notify the parent and the organization when a scholarship account is closed and program funds revert to the state.
7. Notify an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization of any of the organization’s or other organization’s identified students who are receiving scholarships under this chapter.
8. Maintain on its website a list of approved providers as required by s. 1002.66, eligible postsecondary educational institutions, eligible private schools, and eligible organizations and may identify or provide links to lists of other approved providers.
9. Require each organization to verify eligible expenditures before the distribution of funds for any expenditures made pursuant to subparagraphs (4)(b)1. and 2. Review of expenditures made for services specified in subparagraphs (4)(b)3.-15. may be completed after the purchase is made.
10. Investigate any written complaint of a violation of this section by a parent, a student, a private school, a public school, a school district, an organization, a provider, or another appropriate party in accordance with the process established under s. 1002.421.
11. Require quarterly reports by an organization, which must include, at a minimum, the number of students participating in the program; the demographics of program participants; the disability category of program participants; the matrix level of services, if known; the program award amount per student; the total expenditures for the purposes specified in paragraph (4)(b); the types of providers of services to students; and any other information deemed necessary by the department.
12. Notify eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations that scholarships may not be awarded in a school district in which the award will exceed 99 percent of the school district’s share of state funding through the Florida Education Finance Program as calculated by the department.
13. Adjust payments to eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations and, when the Florida Education Finance Program is recalculated, adjust the amount of state funds allocated to school districts through the Florida Education Finance Program based upon the results of the cross-check completed pursuant to subparagraph 2.
(b) At the direction of the Commissioner of Education, the department may:
1. Suspend or revoke program participation or use of program funds by the student or participation or eligibility of an organization, eligible postsecondary educational institution, approved provider, or other party for a violation of this section.
2. Determine the length of, and conditions for lifting, a suspension or revocation specified in this paragraph.
3. Recover unexpended program funds or withhold payment of an equal amount of program funds to recover program funds that were not authorized for use.

In determining whether to suspend or revoke participation or lift a suspension or revocation in accordance with this paragraph, the department may consider factors that include, but are not limited to, acts or omissions that led to a previous suspension or revocation of participation in a state or federal program or an education scholarship program; failure to reimburse the organization for funds improperly received or retained; failure to reimburse government funds improperly received or retained; imposition of a prior criminal sanction related to the person or entity or its officers or employees; imposition of a civil fine or administrative fine, license revocation or suspension, or program eligibility suspension, termination, or revocation related to a person’s or entity’s management or operation; or other types of criminal proceedings in which the person or entity or its officers or employees were found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to, any offense involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty, or moral turpitude.

(c) The department shall notify each school district of the full-time equivalent student consensus estimate of students participating in the program developed pursuant to s. 216.136(4)(a).
(9) PRIVATE SCHOOL ELIGIBILITY AND OBLIGATIONS.To be eligible to participate in the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, a private school may be sectarian or nonsectarian and must:
(a) Comply with all requirements for private schools participating in state school choice scholarship programs pursuant to s. 1002.421.
(b) Provide to the organization all documentation required for a student’s participation, including the private school’s and student’s fee schedules, at least 30 days before any quarterly scholarship payment is made for the student pursuant to paragraph (12)(a). A student is not eligible to receive a quarterly scholarship payment if the private school fails to meet this deadline.
(c)1. Annually administer or make provision for students participating in the program in grades 3 through 10 to take one of the nationally norm-referenced tests that are identified by the department pursuant to paragraph (8)(a) or to take the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22. Students with disabilities for whom the physician or psychologist who issued the diagnosis or the IEP team determines that standardized testing is not appropriate are exempt from this requirement. A participating private school shall report a student’s scores to his or her parent. By August 15 of each year, a participating private school must report the scores of all participating students to a state university as described in s. 1002.395(9)(f).
2. Administer the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22 if the private school chooses to offer the statewide assessments. A participating private school may choose to offer and administer the statewide assessments to all students who attend the private school in grades 3 through 10 and must submit a request in writing to the department by March 1 of each year in order to administer the statewide assessments in the subsequent school year.
(d) For a student determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b), discuss the school’s academic programs and policies, specialized services, code of conduct, and attendance policies before enrollment with the parent to determine which programs and services may meet the student’s individual needs.

If a private school fails to meet the requirements of this subsection or s. 1002.421, the commissioner may determine that the private school is ineligible to participate in the scholarship program.

(10) PARENT AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES FOR PROGRAM PARTICIPATION.
(a) A parent who applies for program participation under paragraph (3)(a) whose student will be enrolled full time in a private school must:
1. Select the private school and apply for the admission of his or her student.
2. Request the scholarship by a date established by the organization, in a manner that creates a written or electronic record of the request and the date of receipt of the request.
3. Inform the applicable school district when the parent withdraws his or her student from a public school to attend an eligible private school.
4. Require his or her student participating in the program to remain in attendance throughout the school year unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause.
5. Meet with the private school’s principal or the principal’s designee to review the school’s academic programs and policies, specialized services, code of student conduct, and attendance policies before enrollment.
6. Require that the student participating in the scholarship program takes the norm-referenced assessment offered by the private school. The parent may also choose to have the student participate in the statewide assessments pursuant to paragraph (7)(d). If the parent requests that the student participating in the program take all statewide assessments required pursuant to s. 1008.22, the parent is responsible for transporting the student to the assessment site designated by the school district.
7. Approve each payment before the scholarship funds may be deposited by funds transfer pursuant to subparagraph (12)(a)4. The parent may not designate any entity or individual associated with the participating private school as the parent’s attorney in fact to approve a funds transfer. A participant who fails to comply with this paragraph forfeits the scholarship.
8. Agree to have the organization commit scholarship funds on behalf of his or her student for tuition and fees for which the parent is responsible for payment at the private school before using empowerment account funds for additional authorized uses under paragraph (4)(a). A parent is responsible for all eligible expenses in excess of the amount of the scholarship.
(b) A parent who applies for program participation under paragraph (3)(b) is exercising his or her parental option to determine the appropriate placement or the services that best meet the needs of his or her child and must:
1. Apply to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to participate in the program by a date set by the organization. The request must be communicated directly to the organization in a manner that creates a written or electronic record of the request and the date of receipt of the request.
2. Sign an agreement with the organization and annually submit a sworn compliance statement to the organization to satisfy or maintain program eligibility, including eligibility to receive and spend program payments by:
a. Affirming that the student is enrolled in a program that meets regular school attendance requirements as provided in s. 1003.01(16)(b), (c), or (d).
b. Affirming that the program funds are used only for authorized purposes serving the student’s educational needs, as described in paragraph (4)(b); that any prepaid college plan or college savings plan funds contributed pursuant to subparagraph (4)(b)6. will not be transferred to another beneficiary while the plan contains funds contributed pursuant to this section; and that they will not receive a payment, refund, or rebate of any funds provided under this section.
c. Affirming that the parent is responsible for all eligible expenses in excess of the amount of the scholarship and for the education of his or her student by, as applicable:
(I) Requiring the student to take an assessment in accordance with paragraph (9)(c);
(II) Providing an annual evaluation in accordance with s. 1002.41(1)(f); or
(III) Requiring the child to take any preassessments and postassessments selected by the provider if the child is 4 years of age and is enrolled in a program provided by an eligible Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program provider. A student with disabilities for whom the physician or psychologist who issued the diagnosis or the IEP team determines that a preassessment and postassessment is not appropriate is exempt from this requirement. A participating provider shall report a student’s scores to the parent.
d. Affirming that the student remains in good standing with the provider or school if those options are selected by the parent.
e. Enrolling his or her child in a program from a Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program provider authorized under s. 1002.55, a school readiness provider authorized under s. 1002.88, or an eligible private school if either option is selected by the parent.
f. Renewing participation in the program each year. A student whose participation in the program is not renewed may continue to spend scholarship funds that are in his or her account from prior years unless the account must be closed pursuant to subparagraph (5)(b)3. Notwithstanding any changes to the student’s IEP, a student who was previously eligible for participation in the program shall remain eligible to apply for renewal. However, for a high-risk child to continue to participate in the program in the school year after he or she reaches 6 years of age, the child’s application for renewal of program participation must contain documentation that the child has a disability defined in paragraph (2)(e) other than high-risk status.
g. Procuring the services necessary to educate the student. If such services include enrollment in an eligible private school, the parent must meet with the private school’s principal or the principal’s designee to review the school’s academic programs and policies, specialized services, code of student conduct, and attendance policies before his or her student is enrolled. When the student receives a scholarship, the district school board is not obligated to provide the student with a free appropriate public education. For purposes of s. 1003.57 and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, a participating student has only those rights that apply to all other unilaterally parentally placed students, except that, when requested by the parent, school district personnel must develop an IEP or matrix level of services.
(c) A participant who fails to comply with this subsection forfeits the scholarship.
(11) OBLIGATIONS OF ELIGIBLE SCHOLARSHIP-FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS.
(a) An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization awarding scholarships to eligible students pursuant to paragraph (3)(a):
1. Must receive applications, determine student eligibility, notify parents in accordance with the requirements of this section, and provide the department with information on the student to enable the department to determine student funding in accordance with paragraph (12)(a).
2. Shall verify the household income level of students and submit the verified list of students and related documentation to the department when necessary.
3. Shall award scholarships in priority order pursuant to paragraph (3)(a).
4. Shall establish and maintain separate empowerment accounts for each eligible student. For each account, the organization must maintain a record of accrued interest that is retained in the student’s account and available only for authorized program expenditures.
5. May permit eligible students to use program funds for the purposes specified in paragraph (4)(a) by paying for the authorized use directly, then submitting a reimbursement request to the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization. However, an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may require the use of an online platform for direct purchases of products so long as such use does not limit a parent’s choice of curriculum or academic programs. If a parent purchases a product identical to one offered by an organization’s online platform for a lower price, the organization shall reimburse the parent the cost of the product.
6. May, from eligible contributions received pursuant to s. 1002.395(6)(l)1., use an amount not to exceed 2.5 percent of the total amount of all scholarships funded under this section for administrative expenses associated with performing functions under this section. An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that has, for the prior fiscal year, complied with the expenditure requirements of s. 1002.395(6)(l)2., may use an amount not to exceed 3 percent. Such administrative expense amount is considered within the 3 percent limit on the total amount an organization may use to administer scholarships under this chapter.
7. Must, in a timely manner, submit any information requested by the department relating to the scholarship under this section.
8. Must notify the department about any violation of this section.
9. Must document each student’s eligibility for a fiscal year before granting a scholarship for that fiscal year. A student is ineligible for a scholarship if the student’s account has been inactive for 2 consecutive fiscal years.
10. Must notify each parent that participation in the scholarship program does not guarantee enrollment.
11. Shall commit scholarship funds on behalf of the student for tuition and fees for which the parent is responsible for payment at the private school before using empowerment account funds for additional authorized uses under paragraph (4)(a).
(b) An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization awarding scholarships to eligible students pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) shall:
1. Receive applications, determine student eligibility, and notify parents in accordance with the requirements of this section. When an application is approved, the organization must provide the department with information on the student to enable the department to determine student funding in accordance with paragraph (12)(b).
2. Establish a date by which a parent must confirm initial or continuing participation in the program.
3. Review applications and award scholarships using the following priorities:
a. For the 2021-2022 school year, a student who received a Gardiner Scholarship in the 2020-2021 school year and meets the eligibility requirements in paragraph (3)(b).
b. Renewing students from the previous school year.
c. Students retained on the previous school year’s wait list.
d. An eligible student who meets the criteria for an initial award pursuant to paragraph (3)(b).

An approved student who does not receive a scholarship must be placed on the wait list in the order in which his or her application is approved. A student who does not receive a scholarship within the fiscal year shall be retained on the wait list for the subsequent fiscal year.

4. Establish and maintain separate accounts for each eligible student. For each account, the organization must maintain a record of accrued interest that is retained in the student’s account and available only for authorized program expenditures.
5. Verify qualifying educational expenditures pursuant to the requirements of paragraph (4)(b).
6. Return any remaining program funds to the department pursuant to paragraph (6)(b).
7. Notify the parent about the availability of, and the requirements associated with requesting, an initial IEP or IEP reevaluation every 3 years for each student participating in the program.
8. Notify the department of any violation of this section.
9. Document each scholarship student’s eligibility for a fiscal year before granting a scholarship for that fiscal year pursuant to paragraph (3)(b). A student is ineligible for a scholarship if the student’s account has been inactive for 2 consecutive fiscal years.
(12) SCHOLARSHIP FUNDING AND PAYMENT.
(a)1. Scholarships for students determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(a) may be funded once all scholarships have been funded in accordance with s. 1002.395(6)(l)2. The calculated scholarship amount for a participating student determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(a) shall be based upon the grade level and school district in which the student was assigned as 100 percent of the funds per unweighted full-time equivalent in the Florida Education Finance Program for a student in the basic program established pursuant to s. 1011.62(1)(c)1., plus a per-full-time equivalent share of funds for the categorical programs established in s. 1011.62(5), (7)(a), and (16), as funded in the General Appropriations Act.
2. A scholarship of $750 or an amount equal to the school district expenditure per student riding a school bus, as determined by the department, whichever is greater, may be awarded to an eligible student who is enrolled in a Florida public school that is different from the school to which the student was assigned or in a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32 if the school district does not provide the student with transportation to the school.
3. The organization must provide the department with the documentation necessary to verify the student’s participation. Upon receiving the documentation, the department shall transfer, beginning August 1, from state funds only, the amount calculated pursuant to 2subparagraph 2. to the organization for quarterly disbursement to parents of participating students each school year in which the scholarship is in force. For a student exiting a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program who chooses to participate in the scholarship program, the amount of the Family Empowerment Scholarship calculated pursuant to 2subparagraph 2. must be transferred from the school district in which the student last attended a public school before commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice. When a student enters the scholarship program, the organization must receive all documentation required for the student’s participation, including the private school’s and the student’s fee schedules, at least 30 days before the first quarterly scholarship payment is made for the student.
4. The initial payment shall be made after the organization’s verification of admission acceptance, and subsequent payments shall be made upon verification of continued enrollment and attendance at the private school. Payment must be by funds transfer or any other means of payment that the department deems to be commercially viable or cost-effective. An organization shall ensure that the parent has approved a funds transfer before any scholarship funds are deposited.
5. An organization may not transfer any funds to an account of a student determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(a) which has a balance in excess of $24,000.
(b)1. For the 2023-2024 school year, the maximum number of students participating in the scholarship program under paragraph (3)(b) shall be the number of students the organization and the department determined eligible pursuant to this section. Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, the maximum number of students participating in the scholarship program under paragraph (3)(b) shall annually increase by 3.0 percent of the state’s total exceptional student education full-time equivalent student membership, not including gifted students. An eligible student who meets any of the following requirements shall be excluded from the maximum number of students if the student:
a. Received specialized instructional services under the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program pursuant to s. 1002.66 during the previous school year and the student has a current IEP developed by the district school board in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education;
b. Is a dependent child of a law enforcement officer or a member of the United States Armed Forces, a foster child, or an adopted child; or
c. Spent the prior school year in attendance at a Florida public school or the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. For purposes of this subparagraph, the term “prior school year in attendance” means that the student was enrolled and reported by:
(I) A school district for funding during either the preceding October or February full-time equivalent student membership surveys in kindergarten through grade 12, which includes time spent in a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program if funded under the Florida Education Finance Program;
(II) The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind during the preceding October or February full-time equivalent student membership surveys in kindergarten through grade 12;
(III) A school district for funding during the preceding October or February full-time equivalent student membership surveys, was at least 4 years of age when enrolled and reported, and was eligible for services under s. 1003.21(1)(e); or
(IV) Received a John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities in the 2021-2022 school year.
2. For a student who has a Level I to Level III matrix of services or a diagnosis by a physician or psychologist, the calculated scholarship amount for a student participating in the program must be based upon the grade level and school district in which the student would have been enrolled as the total funds per unweighted full-time equivalent in the Florida Education Finance Program for a student in the basic exceptional student education program pursuant to s. 1011.62(1)(c) and (d), plus a per full-time equivalent share of funds for the categorical programs established in s. 1011.62(5), (7)(a), (8), and (16), as funded in the General Appropriations Act. For the categorical program established in s. 1011.62(8), the funds must be allocated based on the school district’s average exceptional student education guaranteed allocation funds per exceptional student education full-time equivalent student.
3. For a student with a Level IV or Level V matrix of services, the calculated scholarship amount must be based upon the school district to which the student would have been assigned as the total funds per full-time equivalent for the Level IV or Level V exceptional student education program pursuant to s. 1011.62(1)(c)2.a. or b., plus a per-full time equivalent share of funds for the categorical programs established in s. 1011.62(5), (7)(a), and (16), as funded in the General Appropriations Act.
4. For a student who received a Gardiner Scholarship pursuant to former s. 1002.385 in the 2020-2021 school year, the amount shall be the greater of the amount calculated pursuant to subparagraph 2. or the amount the student received for the 2020-2021 school year.
5. For a student who received a John M. McKay Scholarship pursuant to former s. 1002.39 in the 2020-2021 school year, the amount shall be the greater of the amount calculated pursuant to subparagraph 2. or the amount the student received for the 2020-2021 school year.
6. The organization must provide the department with the documentation necessary to verify the student’s participation.
7. Upon receiving the documentation, the department shall release, from state funds only, the student’s scholarship funds to the organization, to be deposited into the student’s account in four equal amounts no later than September 1, November 1, February 1, and April 1 of each school year in which the scholarship is in force.
8. Accrued interest in the student’s account is in addition to, and not part of, the awarded funds. Program funds include both the awarded funds and accrued interest.
9. The organization may develop a system for payment of benefits by funds transfer, including, but not limited to, debit cards, electronic payment cards, or any other means of payment which the department deems to be commercially viable or cost-effective. A student’s scholarship award may not be reduced for debit card or electronic payment fees. Commodities or services related to the development of such a system must be procured by competitive solicitation unless they are purchased from a state term contract pursuant to s. 287.056.
10. An organization may not transfer any funds to an account of a student determined to be eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) which has a balance in excess of $50,000.
11. Moneys received pursuant to this section do not constitute taxable income to the qualified student or the parent of the qualified student.
(13) LIABILITY.No liability shall arise on the part of the state based on the award or use of a Family Empowerment Scholarship.
(14) SCOPE OF AUTHORITY.The inclusion of eligible private schools within the options available to Florida public school students does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or any school district to impose any additional regulation of private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set forth in this section.
(15) OBLIGATIONS RELATED TO APPROVED PROVIDERS.The Department of Health, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and the Department of Education shall work with an organization for easy or automated access to lists of licensed providers of services specified in subparagraph (4)(b)3. to ensure efficient administration of the program.
(16) TRANSITION-TO-WORK PROGRAM.A student with a disability who is determined eligible pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) who is at least 17 years, but not older than 22 years of age and who has not received a high school diploma or certificate of completion is eligible for enrollment in his or her private school’s transition-to-work program. A transition-to-work program shall consist of academic instruction, work skills training, and a volunteer or paid work experience.
(a) To offer a transition-to-work program, a participating private school must:
1. Develop a transition-to-work program plan, which must include a written description of the academic instruction and work skills training students will receive and the goals for students in the program.
2. Submit the transition-to-work program plan to the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice.
3. Develop a personalized transition-to-work program plan for each student enrolled in the program. The student’s parent, the student, and the school principal must sign the personalized plan. The personalized plan must be submitted to the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice upon request by the office.
4. Provide a release of liability form that must be signed by the student’s parent, the student, and a representative of the business offering the volunteer or paid work experience.
5. Assign a case manager or job coach to visit the student’s job site on a weekly basis to observe the student and, if necessary, provide support and guidance to the student.
6. Provide to the parent and student a quarterly report that documents and explains the student’s progress and performance in the program.
7. Maintain accurate attendance and performance records for the student.
(b) A student enrolled in a transition-to-work program must, at a minimum:
1. Receive 15 instructional hours at the private school’s physical facility, which must include academic instruction and work skills training.
2. Participate in 10 hours of work at the student’s volunteer or paid work experience.
(c) To participate in a transition-to-work program, a business must:
1. Maintain an accurate record of the student’s performance and hours worked and provide the information to the private school.
2. Comply with all state and federal child labor laws.
(17) RULES.The State Board of Education shall adopt rules pursuant to ss. 120.536(1) and 120.54 to administer this section.
History.s. 6, ch. 2019-23; s. 1, ch. 2020-95; s. 4, ch. 2021-27; s. 11, ch. 2021-52; s. 8, ch. 2022-23; s. 9, ch. 2022-30; s. 12, ch. 2022-154; s. 144, ch. 2023-8; s. 14, ch. 2023-9; s. 5, ch. 2023-16; s. 16, ch. 2023-245; s. 14, ch. 2023-273; s. 1, ch. 2023-350.
1Note.Substituted by the editors for a reference to s. 1003.01(13)(e) to conform to the redesignation of subsections in that section by s. 148, ch. 2023-8.
2Note.The amendment by s. 5, ch. 2023-16, redesignated subparagraphs within paragraph (a) but did not revise the reference to subparagraph 2. The material found in subparagraph 2., as that reference existed prior to the amendment by s. 5, ch. 2023-16, is now contained in subparagraph 1.